Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Immanuel's Philosophy-Theology of Worship


Immanuel Baptist Church
Our Philosophy-Theology of Music and Worship

At Immanuel Baptist Church, we believe that God, because of His glorious attributes, is worthy of our worship. The English word "worship" is a modernized term of the antiquated word "worth-ship." Worship, therefore, was originally understood by English speakers as ascribing unto God the praise and adoration of which He is uniquely worthy. While His actions toward man are gracious and wonderful, it is His ontological nature (who He is in and of Himself) that prompts us to respond to Him in worship. Thus, even if God never acted beneficently toward man at all, He would be no less worthy of worship. His divine actions, however, are directly related to His nature and His attributes. We come to know His attributes through His actions. So, in our worship, we respond to God with praise for both who He is and what He has done, namely and chiefly, the redemption He has secured for us in Jesus Christ.

We worship God because He is worthy of worship, but also we worship because we have a biblical mandate to worship. Some of the relevant Scriptures include (but are not limited to) Exodus 20:1-11; Deuteronomy 6:13-15; 1 Chronicles 16:8-36; Psalm 2:11-12; Psalm 29; Psalm 95; Matthew 4:8-10; John 4:19-24; Romans 12:1; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 4:9-11; Revelation 14:6-7; Revelation 15:4. These passages make clear that the right and biblical responsibility of humanity toward God is to worship Him. In addition to God's worthiness and the biblical mandate, we believe that worship gives us the opportunity to confess our common faith together. In worship we set forth and reinforce what we believe to be true about God. This becomes a strong point of unity for the church locally and universally. As we worship God, we join our voices with the saints of times and places, adding our confession of faith to theirs (Hebrews 12:1-2). Finally, in worship we not only express our faith to God, but we proclaim that faith to others. Future generations of believers from our families, our community and the nations observe the content, the manner, and the Object of our worship, and are made audience to a proclamation of divinely revealed truth about the Triune God as we engage together in worship (Acts 16:25; 1 Corinthians 14:23-33).

We do not believe that worship is synonymous with the Sunday morning gathering of the church, though worship should be a central reason and activity of the church's gathering (Acts 2:42-47). Worship can and should be both individual and corporate. The entire life of the Christian person should be characterized by continual worship. When the church gathers for worship, we have come to do together what we have been doing individually while apart (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17, 23). Nor do we believe that worship is synonymous with music, though it is fitting to worship God through music (Psalm 33; Psalm 96; Psalm 150; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:18-21). If God is worthy of worship because of who He is, then music cannot add value to the worship we bring before Him, though it may bring enjoyment and an aesthetically pleasing element to our worship. Central to worship is not the amount or style of music that accompanies it, but rather the Object who receives our worship, namely God alone. Worship is not about what we receive, but what we offer as we come before the Lord. For this reason, worship should never be primarily directed at our own likes and preferences, but rather to His.

Immanuel Baptist Church worships the Triune God on a foundation of several core convictions. First is that our worship should be biblically informed. The Bible is God's inspired and authoritative revelation to man, and in it we find an accurate description of who God is (and therefore why we should worship Him) as well as instructions and examples of proper worship that God receives and honors. In addition to being biblically informed, we believe that worship should be God-ward in its focus. Our songs, our prayers, our offerings, and our speech in worship should reflect the fact that we believe God is listening and that these things are being brought to Him rather than to one another. Thirdly, we believe that true worship should be Christ-centered, for it is only through Christ that we have access to the Father. The redemption that Jesus Christ has purchased for us in His substitutionary death and resurrection has provided a way into His presence, and worship should reflect this truth. We also believe that worship should be Spirit-led. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would glorify Him (John 16:14), therefore if we would glorify the risen Lord in worship, we must sensitively yield ourselves to the Spirit's leading. Finally, we believe that worship must be substantive, addressing the absolute truths of God's attributes and actions, rather than merely focusing on earth-bound matters such as human emotion and sentimentality.

We have observed the church of Jesus Christ in twenty-first century America selling its birthright of biblical worship for a mess of pottage not unlike the exchange between Jacob and Esau. For this reason, we believe that the church in our day could be greatly helped by returning to what was known in bygone days as "the regulative principle." Many churches seem to conduct worship according to what is known as "the normative principle," meaning that unless something is expressly forbidden in Scripture, it is permissible to include in worship. The regulative principle, on the other hand, looks to Scripture for direction in what elements to include in worship. As stated in the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith (1742), Chapter 22, "... the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures." Worship, then, on this principle would include prayer, the reading of Scripture, preaching and hearing the Word of God, the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, the collection of offerings, as well as the ordinances of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. All of these find clear statements of biblical support in the New Testament.

For much of the history of the Christian church, music has been a prominent feature of services of worship. It is prescribed in both the Old and New Testaments as an acceptable mode of worship. While we affirm the appropriateness of music in worship, we are cautious to avoid equating music with worship or emphasizing music to such an extent that the style or performance of music in worship detracts from the God whom we worship. Music, like all other aspects of worship, should be biblical in its lyrical content and would ideally be directed toward God and not men. While exercising care to not use music in an emotionally manipulative way, we also acknowledge that music in worship should have an emotional tone. The book of Psalms demonstrates how wide a range of human emotions can be engaged in singing praise to God. Chiefly, music should reflect the human emotions of joy, gratitude, and reverence for God, though at times it may be appropriate to sing songs that mourn the deadliness of sin, that honestly confess the human condition, and that express attitudes of human need and dependence upon God. In each case, the tune of a song should be reflective of its emotional tone. Music in worship should also be intelligible. When music is offered in worship in such a way that the lyrics cannot be heard or understood, the worshipper is not able to engage his or her mind and affirm the truthfulness of they lyrics. We also believe that music in worship should be authentic and genuinely offered. This means that we prefer (as much as possible) that music be played live and on acoustic instruments rather than through recorded media or electronic augmentation. We recognize that this preference can be overly-restrictive and difficult to enforce, therefore we do allow for exceptions, so long as they are indeed exceptions rather than the rule. Related to this concern is our belief that the bulk of music in worship should be congregationally sung, in order that the worshiper may be actively engaged in the offering praise of God. While one may regularly hear a choral anthem or a piece of solo music in worship at Immanuel, too much of this would reduce the congregation from being active participants in worship to being merely spectators of a performance. Finally, we believe that music in worship should be offered with excellence in view of the fact that God deserves our very best offerings.

At Immanuel, our primary musical instrument employed in worship is the pipe organ. While many churches today are moving away from the use of what was known in former days as "the king of instruments," we believe that the pipe organ is particularly suited for congregational hymn singing. The pipe organ has been the primary instrument in Christian worship since the Middle Ages for good reason. It is uniquely capable of capturing the range of emotional content, from loud and triumphant rejoicing to soft and hushed tones of quiet meditation. The primary selection of hymns sung in worship at Immanuel consists of the classic and time-tested hymns of the Christian faith. While we do not oppose modern music that meets the criteria described above, we rejoice in being able to join our voices with the saints of church history in offering to God timeless songs of theological truth. Our driving vision at Immanuel is to be "A Church for All People." Therefore we do not isolate one particular musical preference or taste that may be time- or culture-bound, but choose instead to praise God with the songs that have crossed the boundaries of time and place and language. On any given Sunday, our congregation may sing a song written by an eighth century North African monk, a sixteenth century European reformer, and a twentieth century American pastor. We believe that this represents a truer picture of the Church of Jesus Christ than what is depicted in the singing of a monolithic slate of songs from a particular era or locale.

The great classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach regularly marked his compositions with three letters at the end: SDG. This stands for the Latin expression, "Soli Deo Gloria," which is translated, "To God Alone Be Glory." It is our desire that all that is done in worship, whether singing or preaching or any other single element, would be done for the glory of God. We welcome you to join us for what we hope will be a rich experience of worship at Immanuel, and pray that you will encounter God powerfully through the expository proclamation of His word and the biblical acts of corporate worship. Soli Deo Gloria.

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